Jan 20, 2015

Expats, You CAN Go Home

I came across an interesting article last week from the perspective of an 'expat' who wrote 4 Ways Living Abroad Changes You...Forever.  While the author generally advocates the benefits of travel, it was his perspective as an 'expat' that got me thinking.  Suddenly I realized that I, too, was an 'expat' while I lived in Australia.  And in spite of nodding my head in agreement to most of the article coupled with my recent move home, I found I  strongly disagreed with one of the author's key points.

According to Wikipedia, 'an expatriate (or expat for short) is a person temporarily or permanently living in a country other than of the person's upbringing'. So I guess the 12yrs that I spent living in Melbourne qualifies me!  Interestingly, until now I've never thought of myself that way, tending to think of expats more in terms of people from English, Western countries who live in non-English speaking places.  

But in the article, the author states: 'You can never go back home'.  As you may recall from my recent post, I have done just that.  After being away from Vancouver, the place where I was brought up, my family and I have just relocated here.  And what do I think of coming home?

Firstly, I had no expectations that things were going to be the same.  How could they be?  Although I have been back for a few months at a time over the the years, I'd been gone for 16yrs! I fully expected things to change, people to change, and relationships to change.  But the reality was, I still have my closest friends and family here and they have been great upon my return.  Yes, I am not entirely the same person that I was before I left due to my experiences, but then again, neither are they.  But in the end, deep down, we haven't changed and neither have our core values. 

 I had greatly underestimated how the values of a society can differ from one another and thus affect one's sense of belonging in the long run.

Secondly, for the first 8yrs or so while I lived in Australia, I still referred to 'home' as Vancouver.  But 4yrs ago or so, I had unconsciously started to regard Melbourne as 'home'.  So moving back was actually a bit difficult psychologically and now, I catch myself still referring to Melbourne that way!   While in some ways I feel caught somewhere in the middle, I have still experienced a sense of belonging here where I grew up that I never quite realised that I missed.  There is something to be said about being able to connect with people who share a similar upbringing as you.  When I first went abroad, I accepted being 'different' as a necessary part of travel whether it be on a short term basis like on holidays, or on an ongoing long term basis as an expat.  I know that I can adapt quite easily to my environment.   

But merely adapting doesn't erase that fact you don't really ever fit in entirely and at at first, that was ok.

Don't get me wrong, I never consciously felt like an outsider while living in Australia--at least not all the time.  But now upon my return to Canada, I finally realize that the feeling was always there and it's been a pleasant surprise to find that gone now.  I feel like people understand me more, and vice versa.  It's just more 'comfortable' being me! 

So I think the answer to the question whether you can go home again or not lies within yourself and your expectations.  It's much like when you re-visit a destination that you had previously loved.  Why are you going back?  Is it based expecting that you will find things are they were the last time you were there?  If so, there is a good chance that you will be disappointed as things change.  But if you approach the return wanting to find a good experience within the existing framework which you had previously experienced, then you might be successful.  

We've been here for 6 months now, and maybe we've just been one of the lucky ones.  It's still early days yet but so far, I think we have settled in nicely.  Returning home has made me realise that I am truly a Canadian at heart. And how does that saying go?  Home is where the heart is.  Yes, expats, you CAN go home (if you want).

So what do you think?  Have you thought about going home or have you done it?  Leave us a comment below!


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